Benjamin Trisk. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Benjamin Trisk. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Benjamin Trisk, widely credited with saving SA’s book-selling industry as CEO of Exclusive Books, has elected to leave the country’s largest bookstore chain after reaching an "amicable settlement" with the board.

At the heart of his departure was a breakdown in the relationship among shareholders, said Trisk.

He is largely bound by a confidentiality agreement in terms of the settlement. The company was profitable, Trisk said.

Exclusive Books is majority owned by Global Capital, an investment banking and private equity firm operating in SA and Australia. David Vinokur is CEO of the firm.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Exclusive Books chairman Mark Barnes said the company recognised the contribution Trisk had made to the "re-engineering of the Exclusive Books business and brand".

When news of Trisk’s suspension first broke in February, book publishers were undivided in their support of him, saying he had had a tremendous positive influence on book-selling in SA.

Trisk’s departure was a "great sadness" to Jacana Media, publishing director Bridget Impey said on Wednesday.

"There will be a great gap left in the book-selling world. He gave it the shot in the arm that we all needed," she said. While Impey admitted she and Trisk often butted heads, she described him as the "maverick bookseller" the industry needed.

A letter from Exclusive Books to publishers had promised "business as usual" following Trisk’s departure, Impey said.

"What we really long for is business unusual, which is what Benjamin gave us."

Jeremy Boraine, publishing director at Jonathan Ball Publishers, said that Trisk had brought energy and passion to Exclusive Books.

"He upgraded key stores and invested in promotions, and kept all the publishers on their toes. It’s too early, however, to say what his departure means for Exclusive Books or the trade more broadly."

Trisk, a former lecturer in the department of financial economics at Wits University and former executive GM of Premier Group, revamped Exclusive Books stores after becoming CEO in December 2013.

Among other changes, stores were designed with more space for customers to read books.

The Hyde Park store, which includes the upmarket EB Social Kitchen & Bar, was short-listed for an international excellence award in the category "bookstore of the year" at the London Book Fair in 2017.

A revamp of Exclusive Books Sandton City was under way, though not in line with his original vision, said Trisk, who remains a shareholder.

Trisk said he wished Exclusive Books every success and hoped there would be an emphasis on African literature. "I’m not sure what I’ll do next, but I don’t want to be lost to the industry. I think I have a lot to contribute to it."

Frank Boner, a board member, takes over as acting CEO.

Boner could not be reached for comment.

ziadyh@businesslive.co.za

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